Canada 2019: we visited Ontario and Quebec

After our visit to New York City, we set off on our Canadian adventure.

July 23rd

We took the flight from La Guardia airport in New York at 14.00 (more than an hour late) and landed at around 15.30. The airline of choice was Westjet, a low-cost Canadian airline. The airline of choice was Westjet, a low-cost Canadian airline. Except for the delay it was quite a comfortable flight and they even gave us a small snack.

As a first culture shock… the bus shelter at the airport bus stop with a heater. Winter must be a bit harsh.

Toronto

We went straight to a relative’s house to rest a bit before going out for a walk.

In the afternoon, we spent some time strolling around as a first contact with the city. A look at the CN Tower and see the views from the Harbour Front with an iced coffee from Tim Horton’s, a Canadian chain of coffee shops like Starbucks but much cheaper that is all over Canada, in any corner, town or road, there is a Tim Horton’s there.

Harbour Front
Harbour Front

In the evening, on our way back to our accommodation, we went to the Wychwood Pub on St. Claire Ave. for dinner, which was wings night.

They were very, very good and not expensive. The waitress was very funny and we laughed a lot with her. Highly recommended but very far from the centre.

July 24th

We started the day with lots of energy by eating a hearty American breakfast at Sunset Grill on Yonge street, a franchise restaurant serving breakfast all day long.

Sunset Grill

With our stomachs full, we went in search of Nathan Phillips Square, where the city hall and the old city hall stand to one side.

In the square there is the typical giant Toronto sign to take a few photos and behind it the new city hall building. It is a very modernist building where some films have been shot, such as the second part of Resident Evil.

Next to the square is the old city hall building, a more classical construction and, to my taste, much nicer than the new one.

Old City Hall
Old City Hall
City Hall
City Hall

There must have been some kind of beauty pageant or something that day because, all of a sudden, about 50 young girls showed up to have their pictures taken by a professional photographer. Then it was time to retreat.

We took a stroll down to the lakeshore past Toronto’s skyscrapers, Union Station and the Scotia bank Arena to the ferry station to visit the Toronto Islands.

After a twenty minute ride with breathtaking views of the Toronto skyline, we disembark at Centre Island.

The island is set up as a sort of Sunday theme park, where families go to spend the day. There is a small amusement park, a farm with barnyard animals and some restaurants.

Parts of the island were closed as well as some of the surrounding islands because they were flooded. This is due to the very high water level of the lake this year.

Toronto

We took a walk around the island. Some of us got our feet wet in the lake and we rested for a while lying on the grass in the shade. The truth is that in Toronto it was hot in the sun, but in the shade it was very pleasant.

Toronto Islands

At noon we took the boat back to Toronto and went to visit St. Lawrence Market.

It is the main public market in the city and on the upper floor there are many food places where you can get take-away food. You can eat sitting at tables on the terrace.

We chose some roast beef and Montreal smoked loin sandwiches that were to die for.

After a little rest we went to the Distillery District, an old whisky distillery (the largest in the world in 1860), now converted into a tourist area with little shops, cafes and places to have a drink. I’d say it’s a bit too hipster for my taste, but it’s great for a stroll.

Distillery District
what to do in Toronto

On our way back to our accommodation, we stopped for an ice cream at the Dutch Dreams ice cream parlour. It is a Dutch ice cream parlour with spectacular ice cream.

You can choose the type of cone, which they make on the spot, from a wide range of types.

They were spectacular and the small one is so big that it is a perfect substitute for a dinner.

Dutch Dreams Toronto

July 25th

The good stuff begins. Today we start our road trip through Ontario and Quebec. The first thing to do is to pick up the car at the rental office at Toronto airport. We take the direct route to Niagara Falls (123km). A coffee at Tim Horton’s and off we go.

One important note: 4 months after returning, I received a letter from the car rental company informing me that I had been charged for a toll road. It turns out that at some point we passed a stretch of electronic toll road, where there are no turnstiles and, without realising it, they take your number plate when you enter and exit. It was about 17€ (20$) between toll and the company’s management. You have to be careful.

Niagara Falls is a group of three waterfalls at the southern end of the Niagara Gorge, which straddles the border between the province of Ontario in Canada and the state of New York in the United States.

The largest, Horseshoe Falls, also known as Canadian Falls, straddles the international border of the two countries.

The other two, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, are within the United States. Bridal Veil Falls is separated from Horseshoe Falls by Goat Island and from American Falls by Luna Island, with both islands located in New York.

Niagara falls

As soon as we arrived we went to the “small” waterfall, which already impressed us. It was spectacular.

We went down to the boat that takes you almost under the falls. There was a long queue but it was quite fast because the boat was big.

When the boat opened, everyone ran to try to get a good spot on the top floor. But it’s better to be on the bottom floor on the left side. It’s not crowded and you have the same view.

They give you a mackintosh before you enter and you still get soaked. If you don’t come out completely wet, you haven’t got a good spot. It’s very, very fun, although it doesn’t last very long.

When we left, we went for a walk along the avenue to the big waterfalls. They are really spectacular, but if you want to take a good picture you almost have to get stuck in the crowd.

niagara falls
Niagara falls day trip
Niagara Falls

We quietly made our way up to the car, ate a small picnic lunch sitting under a tree in the shade and set off again. The destination: Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula (383km). The accommodation was great, a charming little house in the woods on the shore of Lake Huron.

Tobermory

July 26th

We got up leisurely and had breakfast. We only had to cross the street to get to the small dock where the boat was leaving for Flowerpot Island.

Flowerpot Island is a small uninhabited island in Lake Huron, part of the Fathom Five National Marine Park.

Before going to the island, the boat gave us a tour of the lake, showing us a 17th century shipwreck and telling us a little of the history of the offshore islands.

Flowerpot Island

We arrive at Flowerpot Island. As soon as you get off, you are offered a rubbish bag because there are no rubbish bins on the island. It is (logically) forbidden to leave rubbish there.

We took the hiking route around the island. It is a beautiful place, very wooded. On the coast you can see rock formations in the shape of columns called flowerpots, which give the island its name.

Flowerpot Island

The entire hiking route takes about three hours to complete. You pass several points of interest such as a cave, a power station or a small museum in the lighthouse keeper’s house. At the end of the hike, a good swim in the lake, only for the brave, because even though it was the middle of July, the water was freezing cold.

Flowerpot Island

In the afternoon we get back on the boat for the return trip, which goes straight to Tobermory without any sightseeing. We get in the car and head for our next accommodation. We are in the city of Barrie (240km), near the entrance to the Algonquin Provincial Park.

Algonquin Provincial Park

There are plenty of activities to do in the park, although we focused on hiking.

The first was the Whiskey rapids trail of about 2 kilometres.

Just after entering the trail, as in almost all of them, there is a notebook where you write down your details in case you get lost.

It goes fairly quickly but has several drawbacks. The first is that in summer there are no rapids (I suppose they are formed with the thaw in spring) and the second is that the mosquitoes are a real cloud and are the size of sparrows. This was hell, neither the mosquito patches nor the liquid repellents we used were of any use. They are the ones we took to Vietnam and Japan, with great success. They got on us and on top of that they went through our clothes. To top it off, my partner had an allergic reaction and broke out in fierce hives.

Algonquin Provincial Park

A ten-minute drive from there, the two-kilometre Peck Lake Trail also awaited us. A very easy and quiet route along the Peck Lake. Luckily there were almost no mosquitoes on this one and it went very well. The trail is really beautiful.

Peck Lake

After this route we stopped for a picnic lunch at a roadside picnic area to get our strength back. I was very amused (as well as scared) to see bear-proof rubbish bins.

Algonquin Park

After the break it was time for the penultimate route: the Big Pines Trail, which was about 3 kilometres long and also quite easy. Luckily there were hardly any mosquitoes and it went very well. It goes through the deep forest where you can find gigantic and very old pine trees. I loved it.

The next one was not a hike as such, but the Algonquin Logging Museum. It is an open-air museum in the form of a mile-long trail that shows you how the region’s loggers lived and worked and the evolution of their work. It is really interesting and recommendable. It is also free, although you can leave a donation.

Algonquin Logging Museum
Algonquin Logging Museum

We finished our visit just as the museum was closing so we got back in the car and headed out of the park towards Kanata on the outskirts of Ottawa (396km from Barrie) where we had our next accommodation.

July 28th

We had to get up early again to cover the 106 km that separated us from today’s visit, Parc Omega, in the province of Quebec. It is a park of native animals in semi-freedom.

I’m not one of those who likes zoos. Neither aquariums, nor those kind of places where animals are confined for exhibition. But in this case they were local species and the enclosure where they move around is really gigantic (it took up almost the entire tank of the car).

You drive around in the car, with the radio tuned to a specific station where you are given explanations of the park and the animals come looking for you to give them some carrots that you have previously bought at the visitor centre.

Parc Omega

Halfway there is another visitor centre with souvenir shops and restaurants. There you can take a tractor-drawn shuttle to a farm with animals ideal for the little ones. There are also a couple of walking trails.

In the visitor centre there is also an exhibition of birds of prey and they also show you how the wolves live in the area.

A little further on, on the shore of a small lake, there is a picnic area where we had a picnic lunch. Then we took the trail along the edge of the lake, which is also a museum with totem poles of the indigenous people of the different regions of Canada.

Parc Omega

We spent the day at the park and had a very, very good time. It is certainly a visit that children will love, but also adults.

In the afternoon we set off desperate to find a petrol station as the car’s tank had been on reserve for some time and we still had 270 kilometres to go to our next accommodation: a charming little house very close to the lake in a village called Saint-Jean-des-Piles near the entrance to Le Mauricie National Park.

One important note: petrol in Canada is really cheap, about 0.80€ (0.97$) a litre.

We arrived in the village around 9pm. We left our stuff in the flat and went in search of a restaurant.

Nearby was the Bistro Le P’tit Canot. There we were told that the cook was ill and the kitchen was closed, which was impossible. However, there was a young man eating a plate of spaghetti at a table.

Canada

They told us that we could go to the restaurant Marina le St-Jean which closed at 10 o’clock. So we went there, by then it was almost 9.15. We asked if we could have dinner and they said yes. At that moment the cook came out barking saying that the kitchen was already cleaned and that they were no longer serving food. So we rushed to Shawinigan, the biggest town nearby, before the hypermarket that had opened closed, so we could buy something for dinner.

July 29th

Today it was time for sport. We headed for the entrance to Le Mauricie National Park.

At the visitor’s centre we were very well informed about the way to follow and what to do. The man there spoke French, English, Italian and Spanish, so he was perfect.

He told us that the people of Quebec like Spanish very much, that it is studied in school and that they love to practise it when they can. Later on we became aware of this. There we paid the corresponding fee which was 15$ (10.34€) per car.

We drove to Lake Wapizagonke. There we hired some canoes and went across the lake, 4.6km in total.

Lake Wapizagonke

When we reached the end we tied up the canoes. We smeared ourselves with mosquito repellent, as we had encountered a veritable plague of mosquitoes. Then we set off on the 3.4km hike to the Waber waterfalls. Fortunately, the higher you went, the less mosquitoes there were.

We reached the waterfalls and they were simply spectacular. Luckily they can only be reached by the method we used so there were not too many people and they are very well preserved.

There are pools in which you can get into to cool off from the oppressive humid heat and relax from the hike. Of course, the water was too cold.

Waber waterfalls

After a picnic lunch it was time to say goodbye to the waterfalls and start the long walk back. Another 3.4km of hiking and another 4.6km of canoeing back to the car.

On the way back, in the car, we stopped at the viewpoint “le passage” from where we could see an incredible panoramic view of Lake Wapizagonke and where there are explanatory panels about the formation of the area, flora, fauna etc…

Before leaving the park we had a great stroke of luck and a bear crossed in front of the car, without any hurry, so we were able to contemplate it quite calmly.

Lake Wapizagonke

July 30th

It’s time to return gradually to Toronto. First stop Ottawa. After travelling the 354 km from Saint-Jean-des-Piles we arrived in the capital of the country. We left our things in the flat in Gatineau.

Gatineau is a city located in Quebec, on the north bank of the Ottawa River, just opposite the capital of Canada.

We took the opportunity to have lunch in a nearby pub, the Brasserie Gainsbourg. A small craft beer, a poutine, fish and chips and burgers. It was all very tasty.

Now full of energy and after a downpour that seemed like the universal deluge, we headed for Parliament Hill.

Parliament Hill Ottawa

Just across the Ottawa Portage Bridge, we come to Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa’s Anglican cathedral.

In 1824, the Reverend Amos Ansley began preaching in a school. By 1826 a small stone church was opened.

In 1841, construction began on a new church, which lasted two years until 1843, when it was consecrated and named Christ Church. By 1872 it was decided to demolish it in order to build a larger one. This was inaugurated in 1873.

On Easter Day 1897, it was formally announced that Christ Church would become the cathedral of the new diocese.

Christ Church Cathedral Ottawa

A little further on is the Supreme Court of Canada building. It was designed by Ernest Cormier and built between 1939 and 1946. It is worth noting that the foundation stone was laid by Queen Elizabeth, consort of King George VI and later known as the Queen Mother.

Next to it (more or less) is the Justice Building, designed by Thomas W. Fuller and built between 1935 and 1938.

Next to it is the Confederation Building, built between 1927 and 1931 in the Gothic style. It was designed by Richard Cotsman Wright and Thomas W. Fuller.

Confederation Building Ottawa

A little further on we come to the Canadian parliament building. Parliament is divided into three buildings. The Centre Block, opened in 1927, replacing the previous building from 1866, which went up in flames, contains the Senate and Commons chambers. At the front is the clock tower and at the rear is the library.

Canadian parliament building

The East Block (opened in 1866) and the West Block (opened in 1865) contain the offices of ministers and senators, as well as meeting rooms and other administrative spaces.

It can be visited inside by guided tours.

In the centre of the grounds is the Centennial Flame. It commemorates Canada’s centennial as a Confederation, lit on 1 January 1967.

The flame is surrounded by a fountain bearing the coats of arms of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories. The Nunavut Territory’s coat of arms was not originally there, as it was not created until 1999. Its coat of arms was installed on 13 December 2017.

We strolled around the area in peace and quiet as the days were beginning to show.

Next to Parliament Hill are the locks of the Ridau Canal. The canal connects Ottawa with Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in Kingston. The name Rideau (French for curtain), is derived from the curtain-like appearance of the twin falls of the Rideau River where they join the Ottawa River.

Ridau Canal

The canal was opened in 1832 as a precautionary measure in case of war with the United States. Today it is used for recreational activities. The system’s locks are the oldest continuously operating locks in the Americas and open for navigation in mid-May and close in mid-October.

what to do in ottawa

Across the canal is the spectacular Château Laurier, a luxury hotel in a beautiful palatial building, designed in the French Gothic style. The hotel was inaugurated in 1912 and in 1980 was designated a national historic site.

Château Laurier Ottawa

We rested for a while and went over to the National Gallery of Canada to see the building from the outside, which was already closed. It is one of the largest art museums in North America by exhibition space.

The gallery was established in 1880 in the Second Supreme Court of Canada building. In 1911 it moved to the Victoria Memorial Museum building and in 1960 to the Lorne Building.

By 1988 it was finally moved to the current building, created by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie and built of glass and granite. The museum’s permanent collection includes more than 93,000 works by European, American, Asian, Canadian and indigenous artists. It also hosts temporary exhibitions.

National Gallery of Canada

In the square in front of the museum is The Maman statue, a sculpture of a spider by the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois, created in 1999, the same spider statue that can be found next to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, in the Tuileries Garden in Paris or in Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills.

Opposite is Notre-Dame Cathedral, a Roman Catholic basilica, the oldest and largest church in Ottawa and the seat of the city’s Catholic archbishop.

The Maman statue and Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ottawa

In 1832, the first wooden church was built on the site. It was demolished in 1841 to make way for a larger church. It was designed by Antoine Robillard and Father John Francis Cannon, who requested a neo-classical design.

In 1844 with the lower section completed, the Oblate Fathers took over the administration of the parish. They decided to redesign the church in a neo-Gothic structure, a style that was growing in popularity.

what to do in Ottawa

From there, exhausted, we strolled to ByWard Market. It is a shopping and entertainment district in the city centre. It includes the market buildings and open-air market along George, York, ByWard and William Street.

In 1827 the first market building was built along with a courthouse behind it on George Street, which were dismantled in 1842.

On Saturday 6 November 1848 two new buildings were opened. One in the Lower Town, built of timber. With space for market stalls on the ground floor and a well-lit upper floor to be used for public meetings. The one in the Upper Town became the town hall until 1878. And so various buildings evolved until the present day.

Ottawa

The area around the market is a place where you’ll find many restaurants and places to have a drink. This is also where the giant Ottawa sign is located for us tourists to take pictures. I found the Bywan market very hipster and touristy so we decided to have dinner in the flat and rest early.

July 31st

It’s another early start today. We had breakfast and set off for the city of Gananoque (167km). There we booked a cruise that toured the Thousand Islands, an archipelago of 1,864 islands.

It is divided by the border between Canada and the United States. It lies at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River at one end of Lake Ontario. The Canadian islands are in the province of Ontario and the US islands are in the state of New York.

The islands vary in size, ranging from 100 square kilometres for the largest, to the smallest, which contains only one small residence.

To count as one of the Thousand Islands, the island must have at least one square foot (0.093 m²) of land above water level year-round and support at least one living tree.

Hub island
Hub Island, the smallest island

We bought the two and a half hour option. It consisted of a tour around the most important islands (without disembarking on any of them) while they explained the history of the place and some curiosities.

Heart island
Heart Island

The excursion is very interesting and entertaining. The ship also has a bar where you can have a drink while you enjoy the tour.

By the time the tour was over it was a bit late so we decided to have lunch at the cruise company’s restaurant and then set off back to Toronto (290km).

August 1st

Today was a relaxing walk around Toronto. We went to Casa Loma although we decided not to go inside as it did not attract our attention.

It is a neo-Gothic style mansion and garden in downtown Toronto. It was built between 1911 and 1914 by architect E. J. Lennox, as a residence for the financier Sir Henry Pellatt.

Casa Loma

In 1924 the City of Toronto repossesses Casa Loma due to unpaid debts and taxes. Henry Pellatt goes bankrupt after the expropriation of his power companies and the decline of his real estate business. This was due to the First World War. After this, the house was abandoned for years.

In 1937 it was leased by the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto. Later, the Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma (KCCL) began to exploit the castle for tourism. They managed the house until 2011.

Casa Loma Toronto

Because of its unique architectural character in Toronto, Casa Loma has been a popular location for film and television shoots. It is also a popular location for wedding ceremonies.

After a tour of the house we went for a walk downtown past some university fraternities. We also bought some souvenirs.

On this day we ate at the Salad King restaurant, a well-known Thai restaurant, which was very good and not expensive.

With renewed strength we continue strolling through the centre until we reach Queen’s Park. It is an urban park in the city centre inaugurated in 1860 by Prince Edward of Wales. It is named after Queen Victoria.

The park is the site of the Ontario Legislative Building, which houses the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

Construction of the Ontario Legislative Assembly Building began in 1886 to the design of architect Richard A. Waite and opened in 1893. It has undergone numerous extensions, most recently in 1968 and 1969.

Ontario Legislative Building
Ontario Legislative Building

There we sat on the grass and ate some Japanese cheesecakes that we had bought, which were to die for. We bought them in a shop called Uncle Tetsu’s Japanese Cheesecake very close to Dundas square.

After the break we continued walking past several faculties of the University of Toronto until we reached Kensington market. It is a distinctive multicultural neighbourhood in the centre of Toronto, with little shops and places to eat and drink something very hipster.

There we sat down for a drink, making time to go to the CN Tower where we had dinner at its revolving restaurant.

Toronto

The CN Tower is a 553-metre-high communications and observation tower. It was built between 1973 and 1976. Its name “CN” originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower.

Today you can climb it to admire the incredible views of the city and to eat in its 360º restaurant, which slowly rotates to enjoy the view of Toronto. There are also various activities such as a walk around the outside at the top of the tower (how scary).

What can we say about the views from the CN Tower… They are simply spectacular and the sunset is amazing.

CN Tower

The dinner, apart from the view, was very, very good. It was modern cuisine but you don’t go hungry. You can choose a menu for 65$ (45€) or order from the menu, but the latter option is very expensive. The good thing is that it includes entrance to the tower.

CN Tower

After dinner we went back to the viewpoint of the tower, taking advantage of the fact that there were hardly any people around to enjoy the views for a while longer and take a good photo.

CN Tower

On leaving the tower we took a stroll around the surrounding area and took advantage of the late hour to take a photo at the Canada sign, which during the day is impossible due to the queues that form.

August 2nd

Last day in Canada. Quite exhausted from so many non-stop days, we left a little later for a last walk around Toronto. We bought the last souvenirs.

In the Art Gallery shop they gave us a collection of art books for the purchase we made. It was heavy as hell. With all that weight we continued walking around. We had breakfast at another Sunset grill (where we had breakfast on the first day) and went to look at the lake for a while at the Harbour front.

Toronto

We flew back with KLM. The plane was very old and the seats were very narrow, almost no leg room. The truth is that it was a really uncomfortable flight. However, the crew was very friendly and the food was very good.

We left around 11 pm and landed in Amsterdam at 12 noon. Two hours later the flight to Bilbao was leaving. This was also a KLM plane and it was one of the small ones with only two rows of seats. Incredibly, there was much more legroom and it was much more comfortable than the previous one.

what to do in Toronto

Balance of the trip

Canada impressed me. Its spectacular landscapes, its wildlife and, above all, the great kindness and friendliness of the Canadians. What impressed me most about them is the joy and the incredible treatment they have at work, where it seems that whatever it is, they love the job.

We plan to return to the country one day and visit the other coast, which must also be spectacular.

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